It will be a season of turnover on defence for the St. John's IceCaps. The top three defencemen from last season are all gone. Mark Barberio has graduated full-time to the NHL, while Morgan Ellis and Darren Dietz were not qualified by the organization as restricted free agents and have signed elsewhere. Victor Bartley, Travis Brown, and Mac Bennett join the ranks of defencemen who are not returning.
But that's not all entirely bad. if anything the organization purged the players who they believe have reached their developmental plateau in order to make some room for new blood.
Zach Redmond is a five-year veteran who will probably be returning to where it all started for him as an Atlanta Thrashers draft pick. I say "probably" because he will likely be battling with Greg Pateryn for that final spot on the Montreal Canadiens defence when training camp commences. Redmond began his professional career in St. John's and played there for three seasons while flirting with the NHL.
He is in a silimar position to Barberio last season as an NHL-ready depth defencemen who the Habs will try to sneak past waivers, and call up at some point. Should he clear, he would rank as the IceCaps' top defender.
Philip Samuelsson recently signed a one-year deal with the Canadiens, but it is highly unlikely that the defenceman anticipates making the NHL. The five-year pro never really established himself at the NHL level, but has seen a short call-up in three consecutive seasons. He could be an option for the Canadiens if they ever require a depth defenceman to be called up. It iss likely that he will complete the top defensive pairing with Redmond.
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Joel Hanley surprised everyone last season by, firstly, getting called up to Montreal as part of their dire defensive dilemma last season, and, secondly, actually doing pretty well. He chalked up points at a seemingly unsustainable yet ultimately persistent basis, without making defensive compromises. He earned himself another one-year contract for the upcoming season, and will be expected to be a larger part of the IceCaps' defence corps.
Brett Lernout still has some things to learn in his second professional season. He's tall, but still needs to add muscle in order to establish himself more physically. He didn't offer much in terms of offensive production for the IceCaps last season, but really he projects to be more of a shutdown defender with a mean streak. There have been hints of a good slapshot in his arsenal, so hopefully he can present a more complete game this season.
Last Chance to Impress
Things have gone rather poorly for 2012 second-round pick Dalton Thrower so far in his professional career. Injuries have completely derailed his first two seasons, and unable to stick even in the AHL, Thrower has seen more time in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast, and even there he played just 29 games last season. He was a healthy scratch for all but nine games while on the IceCaps roster.
He could be in line for a remarkable bounce-back season, but the sample size does not seem to support that notion. He will be hard-pressed to earn a new deal for next season.
Ryan Johnston is a speedy puck-moving defenceman who needs to work on the defensive part of the equation. In his first professional season last year, Johnston was sidelined with a back injury for nearly half the season, which hurt his development. That didn't stop him from getting called up to the Canadiens as part of their cavalcade of defensive injuries last season.
He has one more season to show what he's got, and with the next wave of prospects coming in the following season (Noah Juulsen, Simon Bourque, and Mikhail Sergachev possibly jumping directly to the NHL), this will likely be a pivotal season for Johnston.
Josiah Didier is an interesting case. He was drafted by the Canadiens, but they never signed him after his NCAA career was over. Instead, he signed an AHL contract with the IceCaps where he excelled as a shutdown defenceman and penalty killer in his rookie season, and generally earning more playing time than NHL-contracted prospects such as Bennett and Thrower. He signed a second AHL deal just recently, and will once again be pushing the more prominent prospects of the organization.
One To Watch
Tom Parisi was a highly sought undrafted free agent coming out of the NCAA last season. The Canadiens managed to win his services, signing him to a two-year entry-level contract for this upcoming season. Parisi got his first taste of professional hockey towards the end of last season with the IceCaps, but will enter his first full rookie season with little fanfare and some time to develop his game.
He is known to be a smart defenceman who can overcome a lack of size. He looked good at the prospect development camp, so it wouldn't be out of the question to see a cautious start to the season with a gradual increase in his responsibilities and assignments.
Jeremie Blain is entering his fifth professional season, having pretty much established himself as an ECHL defender with occasional AHL assignments. At 6'3" he is physically imposing, but limited in his overall presentation. He was the second-highest scoring defenceman for the Beast last season, and will likely continue playing in the ECHL this season, awaiting an opportunity to get called up to the IceCaps.
Projected Defensive Pairs
- Top pairing: Samuelsson - Redmond
- Shutdown: Hanley - Lernout
- Vision and Determination: Parisi - Didier
- Extra Skaters: Johnston - Thrower
- ECHL Reinforcement: Blain